The Fragmentation of the Manor (and a story fit for Halloween)
As we left the story last month, the Manor of Lustleigh consisted of a number of farms and cottages, all of which were owned by Nicholas Wadham. There were also a few free tenements that he did not own but from whom he received a small annual “quit rent” in acknowledgement that he was their Lord.
This simple and easily understood system was about to change and be replaced by a much more complicated one. Nicholas Wadham died in 1609. He was buried in the Parish Church at Ilminster Somerset. As he and his wife had no children, the title to Nicholas’s many estates and properties in Devon and Somerset went, as was the custom, to his three sisters. They each inherited a third of his estates and so in the case of Lustleigh each sister owned one third of the Manor. If this situation arose today the estate would probably be physically divided into three equal shares however this was not so in those days. So, the sisters inherited “an undivided one third of the Manor of Lustleigh”.
The eldest of the sisters was Florence, the wife of John Wyndham of Orchard Wyndham, Somerset. Even in those days, the Wyndhams were a famous family. Four of Henry VIII’s queens – Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Parr – were related to them. Two of the family attained the rank of Vice-Admiral of England in the 16th century. Later Wyndhams held high ministerial posts in the reigns of George I and George II.
There is a fascinating and somewhat macabre tale regarding Florence. When she married john Wyndham the couple lived at Kentsford near Watchet. In the second year of their marriage Florence became ill, died and was buried in the family vault of St. Decumans Church nearby. That night the verger, a man named Attwell who had assisted at the last rites, returned to the vault, prised open the lid of the lead coffin and proceeded to strip the corpse of her jewellery. The story goes that having secured all but a valuable ring that he was unable to remove, he drew his knife and started to sever the finger. To his horror, blood began to flow and the “corpse”, struggling to a sitting position, demanded to know where she was. The terrified man fled leaving behind a lantern, which Florence now thoroughly alive, took to guide her as she staggered over fields to her home. She was unable to rouse anyone at the house however, some of the servants were awoken by the howling of the favourite hound of their late mistress and went to investigate, only to retreat in terror barring the door behind them at the grim site of a blood-stained shroud that they took to be the ghost of their late mistress. Hearing the commotion her husband, made of sterner stuff, at once ordered the door to be opened and was shocked to see the wife he had just buried standing on the lawn in front of the house. Florence fully recovered and a few weeks later gave birth to a son – John – who when he grew up had nine sons to carry on the family name. So much for Florence who must have been a woman of considerable courage and initiative. The verger was never heard of again despite the family offering a substantial reward to him for being the means of restoring Florence to her family.
Florence’s share of the Manor passed to her son John (later Sir John) – that same son who was born a few weeks after Florence’s return from the grave. Nicholas Wadham’s other sisters Joan Strangeways and Margaret Martin saw each of their shares of the Manor of Lustleigh eventually pass to their Children, John Strangeways and Joan’s four daughters – Anne Floyer, Elisabeth Hamon, Frances White and Jane Richards.
The above is taken from: Chapter VII of “The Story of Waye”, by Hugo Pellew and based on research by Dr. M. H. Hughes.